Real Estate

Plan before you plant

Ten things to keep in mind when designing your garden

Having trouble getting started on that garden project or backyard? Whether you are working with a designer or on your own, here are 10 ideas to get you motivated:

1. Look at your home's architecture and let its form, style and materials drive your design. Whether Mediterranean, modern or a cottage bungalow, there are many plants and accessories to enhance each style.

2. Your garden entry says much about you. What impression will people have when they approach your front door? Will they feel welcome? Make paths safe for walking, while filling the spaces with an abundance of interesting plants. Use containers for added visual interest.

3. How are you going to use the garden? For entertaining, relaxing, play areas or all three? Barbecues, hot tubs, fire pits and dining areas help create outdoor rooms and expand your living space. Do you want a play structure for your young children? Do you want a vegetable garden? Make a list of all the ways you want to use the garden and sketch a layout.

4. Focal points add interest and can give you a pleasing entry point into the garden or help direct the line of sight. Fountains, sculpture, art and bold plants can also be excellent focal points.

5. Water is a wonderful element for any garden. Pools and spas are great additions but not the only way to introduce water. A small fountain, pond, or shallow container with water lilies can make dramatic statements. If road noise is a problem, the gentle sound of falling water is a great way to dampen noise.

6. Think in terms of garden rooms. If you are on one acre or a 50-foot-by-80-foot city lot, carve out spaces to create elements of surprise and wonder. Large lawns are often boring and in today's environment, real water hogs.

7. A successful garden doesn't reveal everything at once. Think how you can add paths and movement to the garden. How you move around the garden is important to the overall use and feel of the garden.

8. Just like a successful outfit, gardens need accessories. Create personality by adding benches, containers, arbors, trellises and antique garden features. Do you have a collection of old garden tools or bird houses? Find a spot to highlight the collection.

9. Don't forget to light your garden. Lights in the garden add beauty and interest by highlighting shapes and forms. By illuminating stairs and transition points, you will not only create safe pathways but also improve security. For mood lighting, lanterns and candles are magical on a summer night.

10. Finally, when you select plants, start with leaves first. Flowers come and go but it's the leaves that give the backbone to the garden. Besides green, choose from different colors such as variegated, grey, red, chartreuse or purple. Choose selections of evergreen plants for good bone structure through the year and deciduous plants that signal the changes of the seasons.

Remember, however you choose to start, just start! A home surrounded by a lovely garden adds value and gives hours of pleasure.

Laurie Callaway is a national board member of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers (APLD), and president of the Peninsula district. She is a regular contributor on HGTV's program "Curb Appeal." She can be reached at

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